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MIAMI � After winning almost all of its cases, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Medicare strike force is preparing to move out of Miami and on to the next bastions of Medicare fraud, Los Angeles and then Houston, where it is sure to be greeted with a mixture of pleasure and concern by the defense bars there. The Medicare strike force set up shop in Miami in March 2007. The plan was to bring a batch of quick cases in seven months, then move on to the next region. Miami was chosen because law enforcement officials consider it ground zero for Medicare fraud. In Miami, an estimated $2 billion is stolen annually from Medicare. The majority of the fraud is billing for nonexistent durable medical equipment and unnecessary infusion therapy for AIDS patients. With $2 million in funding from both DOJ and the Miami U.S. attorney’s office, the strike force was initially staffed by two Miami and two DOJ prosecutors. But the group did so well that seven DOJ prosecutors came down to help. In Miami, the strike force garnered 90 guilty pleas and 10 convictions out of 120 cases. One client was acquitted, one trial ended in a mistrial, one client died, 13 are fugitives and four are awaiting trial. In the seven-month period, 120 defendants were indicted for allegedly committing $420 million in fraud. Ninety of the defendants pleaded guilty and 10 went to trial so far. A few trials remain. More importantly, though, Medicare billing dropped off in Miami by $1.4 billion during the previous year. The strike force’s conviction rate is an impressive 99.3%. The Miami U.S. attorney’s office was so pleased with the results that when the joint strike force ended its run, the office made it permanent, staffed internally. Defense bar bristles The strike force’s arrival did not go unnoticed by the Miami criminal defense bar. While some attorneys appreciate the business, some take issue with the strike force’s tactics. Jose Quinon, a Miami criminal defense lawyer and solo practitioner, argues that the strike force uses “over-the-top aggressive tactics.” For example, he said it files cases on easily proven charges and then throws the kitchen sink at defendants at sentencing. “You indict someone for spitting on the sidewalk and then at the sentencing hearing, you say, ‘We’re going to electrocute you,’ ” he said. “It’s not fair to sentence somebody for a crime that they have not been convicted before a jury for. These are constitutional issues.” Quinon also questioned whether the strike force was going after “little fish” � minor players � in order to drive up statistics. “For us, it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “On the one hand you want to rent them an office and say welcome, stay as long as you want. On the other hand, you want them to play by the rules.” Another Miami defense lawyer complained that the strike force is “forcing people to admit to being leaders and forcing pleas down peoples’ throats.” Other lawyers say they would rather go up against local prosecutors whom they have known for years rather than “interlopers” from Washington. But the Department of Justice asserts that the strike force appears finally to be putting a dent in what has been a widespread problem in Miami for more than a decade. “Our mission is to enforce the laws passed by Congress,” said Kirk Ogrosky, who heads the strike force. “In doing that, we are preparing for the future in health care fraud by training our prosecutors across sectors of the industry and assuring that we do everything within our power to deter crime.”

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